In one of the most entertaining Christmas Day games in recent memory, the Golden State Warriors were upended by the defending champion Cleveland Cavaliers 109-108. Kevin Durant led all scorers with 36 points while Lebron James notched 31 for the Cavs. Golden State built a 14-point lead with less than 10 minutes to play, but the Cavs methodically cut into the deficit behind James’ otherworldly two-way effort before Kyrie Irving connected on a late fade away jumper to give the home team the win.
These two teams will meet again on January 16 in Oracle Arena.
Here are 10 thoughts on the game:
1. Kyrie Irving did it again. With the game on the line and the Cavs needing a basket to complete a stunning comeback, Irving calmly took the ball the length of the court, stopped baseline, spun away from his defender, and hit a falling jumper over the outstretched arm of Klay Thompson to give Cleveland the win. While the Dubs were recklessly trying to sling the ball through tight spaces in the fourth quarter, the Cavs confidently and methodically chipped away at the lead. Cleveland isn’t going to panic at a double-digit fourth-quarter lead when they have the best player on the planet and a closer like Kyrie. The Warriors are going to have to execute better if they want to take four out of seven from this squad in June.
2. And that starts with Stephen Curry, who was conspicuously absent for most of the game (except on defense where — it hurts me to say — he was awful). The two-time MVP had only 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting with multiple Cavs draped all over him. Usually Curry turns that defensive attention into points for his teammates, but in this contest, he had only three assists against three turnovers. Curry hit a timely 3-pointer to put the Dubs on top late, but he was also benched for the final defensive play, something he admitted frustrated him. This Warriors season has been a joy to watch thus far, but one quiet subplot is the lack of Curry takeovers. He had the 13 3-pointers game against New Orleans and a few 30-point explosions, but there hasn’t been the consistent 5-minute runs of Curry fireworks this year. Blame it on age, wear-and-tear, acquiescing to KD’s role, or just having an off-year, but I miss watching Steph do ludicrous things on the basketball court and then laughing like a mad man.
3. Kevin Durant kept the offense afloat with 12 points during a ragged first quarter that saw Draymond get benched with foul trouble and Steph and Klay missing shots. KD had another efficient game with 36 points on 21 shots, 15 boards, and 2 combined steals and blocks. The Cavs have no answer for Durant (unless you think Kevin Love and Richard Jefferson are KD stoppers) and Steve Kerr is going to have to figure out how to use that advantage at the forward spot to get the rest of the offense going in crunch time.
4. David West (5 points, 5 rebounds) was by far the best back up big off the bench. He found Ian Clark and Klay cutting to the basket multiple times and did an admirable job on defense, even chasing shooters out to the arc. Unfortunately for the Dubs, Zaza Pachulia was a mess on both sides of the ball (the Cavs barely guarded him) and JaVale McGee (despite a thunderous putback jam off a missed jumper) repeatedly took himself out of the play by chasing impossible offensive rebounds and helping too far off the roll-man.
5. Lebron James: Best Player in the Game. It’s not only the vicious attacks on Zaza, or the four triples in a single quarter, or even the massive dunks on multiple shot-blockers, it’s that when his team really needs it, he can string together inhuman sequences on both ends of the court. Steph and KD are great, great players, but they’re not making Lebron-level plays. And, to be honest, I’m not sure anyone ever has.
6. If you had Richard Jefferson as the x-factor in this game (two dunks to jumpstart the rally and the final “defensive” play on KD), raise your hand. But don’t raise it too high or the 36-year-old might spike it on your head. Twice.
7. I disagree with everyone. RJ deserved the tech for winking. Winking is creepy. Winking is how you announce to the world you’re a weirdo or a pervert.
8. New rule proposal: technicals following atrocious foul calls should be rescinded post-game. Dray now with seven techs on the year.
9. Yes, Lebron deserved a technical for hanging on the rim. Yes, Jefferson should’ve been called for a tripping foul on the final play. Yes, Draymond got hit with dubious foul calls. But no, I’m not a fan of harping about these things after the fact. It’s much more productive to focus on what the Warriors can do better going forward. Like not giving up18 offensive rebounds and committing 19 turnovers. Box out four more times and cut the giveaways by a third and this game would’ve been a Dubs’ victory going away.
10. For fans panicking: the Warriors won both regular-season match ups versus the Cavs last season … and lost in the Finals. These pre-June contests are good for informing potential strategy, rotations, and building hype, but I wouldn’t count on them to predict the future. The Warriors lost by one despite having 18 fewer shot attempts. I’d worry more about the penchant for errant passes, not finishing in transition, and not bodying up on rebounds.